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Don Giovani, Likeable Villain

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

One of the reasons Mozart’s operas seem so profound to us is because they’re so true to life, and perhaps especially true to life’s complexities and contradictions. Take the character of Don Giovanni. He’s introduced to us having committed a sexual assault, which he follows by killing someone. But Mozart doesn’t make him a cartoon villain, and in fact he does the opposite: he makes him appealing—he gives him beautiful music to sing. But here’s what’s so fascinating – and such a stroke of genius on Mozart’s part: Every beautiful note Don Giovanni sings is a lie!

Mozart uses beautiful music to show the danger of beauty –to show that beauty itself can be false, and even that music itself can be false. It would have been so much easier to make Don Giovanni a sort of barking bad guy and singer of nasty songs. But Mozart’s way is much more profound. It’s not just true to life, it’s true to the painful ironies of life.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.